The Teacher Retirement System of Texas (TRS) Board of Trustees met today, May 13, in Austin to discuss various topics, including potential premium and plan design alternatives for TRS-Care. The retiree health benefits program includes the three standard plans (Tiers 1, 2 and 3), as well as the fully-insured Medicare Advantage Plans and the Medicare Part D Plans.
TRS Executive Director Brian Guthrie updated the trustees on the progress of the TRS-Care interim legislative committee and the status of the TRS-Care fund balance. Guthrie stated that “we are cutting it very close on the ending fund balance for TRS-Care for fiscal year 2017.”
As of today, TRS-Care is projected to have a negative balance of $18 million by August 2017. This increasing financial pressure may force the TRS Board to action this year.
The good news is that the projected negative fund balance has continued to decrease month over month. However, due to the unpredictability of medical costs, Guthrie could not say that the balance would increase or decrease in the coming months.
Fluctuations could affect TRS-Care in either a positive or adverse way, and there is no guarantee of receiving supplemental funding from the Legislature during the 85thLegislative Session. Director Guthrie felt that mitigating the shortfall using methods that are within the purview of the Board of Trustees—actions that don’t require legislative action or approval—should be considered sooner rather than later.
Guthrie stressed that the only opportunity to help prevent a negative fund balance is now, as waiting until 2017 to enact any changes is not enough time to have an effect. If changes are approved, they will be adopted in June 2016 and go into effect in September.
Possible options that the board may consider include:
- Premium or out-of-pocket increases;
- Limiting network access; and,
- Enhanced network management.
TRS Chief Health Care Officer Katrina Daniel emphasized that it is important to avoid creating too much disruption or dissatisfaction with plan participants.
The chart above provides an overview of options and how they impact both the members, as well as the overall plan and the potential for savings. Pairing options together could help mitigate the impact to the members as well.
When first reviewing these options, the projected shortfall to TRS-Care for fiscal year 2017 was closer to $75 million. Per Ms. Daniel, if no other options were utilized, an increase of approximately 20 percent in premiums would be needed to effectively mitigate a shortfall of $75 million.
Information YOU Need to Know: How Changes May Impact You and Your TRS-Care!
Every 5 percent increase in retiree premiums is the equivalent of approximately $20.8 million. Mandatory Medicare Advantage participation for all members could save the plan $25 million, but would create a lot of disruption for participants. Mandatory Part D participation would save the plan between $5.5 and $6.5 million (with considerably less disruption than a mandatory Medicare Advantage change).
Another consideration is using tiered pharmacy networks, which would create savings between $6 and $10 million.
Mandatory mail order for pharmacy prescriptions could result in $8 to $10 million in savings. This option was the most thoroughly discussed by the board, with Chairman David Kelly questioning why this feature was not already in place.
Daniel cautioned the trustees that it is vital that any changes made must be within the parameters set by the federal government so that TRS-Care can maintain its grandfathered status in the Affordable Care Act.
No recommendations are being made to the trustees by the TRS staff at this time;however, these are the options that are being studied. Some options may be recommended during the June TRS Board of Trustees meeting.
A TRS Retiree Advisory Committee meeting will be held next week, allowing the committee an opportunity to review all possible options in greater detail and make recommendations if necessary.
These discussions will pertain to the short-term budget options regarding the future of TRS-Care. The Texas Legislature will grapple with long-term changes to the program during the upcoming 2017 legislative session.
As our members know, the Texas Retired Teachers Association (TRTA) supports pre-funding of the TRS-Care retiree health insurance program by the Texas Legislature. While pre-funding TRS-Care is the best option for its long-term solvency, and the method that would be most fair to plan participants, it is the most expensive option for the Legislature. It would cost the state a total of $2.7 billion during the 2018-19 biennium and $2.8 billion during the 2020-21 biennium to pre-fund TRS-Care.
The bottom line is this: more revenue is needed to keep TRS-Care solvent. The current pay-as-you-go method has almost been as expensive as a pre-funded method. A pre-funded method would be similar to the TRS pension fund, which receives yearly contributions from the state, active educators, and school districts.
Though most education associations in Texas concur that pre-funding is the best option for TRS-Care, the reality of how the fiscal issues with the program will be resolved remains to be seen, and will be a point of contention during the 85th Legislative Session.
The fact is that TRTA and our members are leading on this issue. We are grateful for the attention being given to TRS-Care; TRTA knows that we have many friends in the Texas Legislature. The solution to this difficult problem may include different benefit strategies; however, TRTA believes that no matter what may be discussed regarding the health care plan, a serious discussion on additional state revenue is needed to keep this plan intact now and for the future.
Said more simply, TRS-Care is out of money and all public education retirees participating in TRS-Care need to join TRTA in this fight for additional state funding!
You can help TRTA get this message out. This projected immediate shortfall is alarming and it shows how delicate the funding situation is for your retiree health care program. PLEASE send this email to your fellow retirees, friends, former colleagues, active educator friends and family members. NOW is the time to enlist as many TRTA members as possible to help us address this issue.
Members will make the biggest difference on how the legislature responds to this issue. TRTA membership is $35 annually, and those dollars help us represent you on this important topic. But, we also need your voice and your support through email and phone calls to legislators asking for their attention and help on the TRS-Care funding troubles.
Please encourage your fellow retirees, friends, and colleagues to become a member of TRTA as we work to protect your TRS-Care health insurance program. Click here to join TRTA or renew your membership!
New Trustees Appointed to TRS Board
The Board also welcomed two new trustees who were appointed by Governor Greg Abbott during today’s meeting. Governor Greg Abbott has appointed John Elliott and Greg Gibson for terms set to expire August 31, 2021.
John Elliott of Austin is a partner at Smith, Robertson, Elliott & Douglas, L.L.P. He is a member of the American Bar Association, State Bar of Texas, Austin Bar Association, International Council of Shopping Centers, Urban Land Institute and the Real Estate Council of Austin. Elliott received a Bachelor of Business Administration in Accounting and a Juris Doctor from The University of Texas at Austin.
Greg Gibson of Schertz is superintendent of Schertz-Cibolo-Universal City Independent School District. He is a member of the Texas Association of School Administrators and National Baldrige Award Panel of Judges. Additionally, he is a board member and examiner for the Quality Texas Foundation. Gibson received a Bachelor of Science and Master of Arts in education from Midwestern State University and a Doctor of Education from the University of North Texas.
Abbott also reappointed Christopher Moss to the Teacher Retirement System of Texas (TRS) Board of Trustees. Mr. Moss is from Lufkin, and serves as president of Allendale, Inc. DBA The Advanced Financial Group. He is a member of the National Association of Insurance and Financial Advisors, board member of the Angelina County Fair and a committee member of Angelina County Go Texan. Moss received a Bachelor of Science from Texas A&M University and a Master of Business Administration from Sam Houston State University.
TRTA would also like to take this opportunity to thank Nanette Sissney, current Vice Chair of the TRS Board of Trustees and a school counselor at Whitesboro Independent School District. Ms. Sissney was appointed to the board in 2009 by then Governor Rick Perry, and will complete her term this August 31.
Nanette is also immediate past president of the Texas Classroom Teachers Association (TCTA), a previous second vice-president of the Delta Kappa Gamma Kappa Zeta Chapter, and has served as a trustee for the First United Methodist Church of Whitesboro and as a volunteer with the Whitesboro Ministerial Alliance. She has been an educator for 23 years, including teaching government and economics for 12 years. Prior to her work as an educator, she spent many years as a financial auditor and analyst in the private sector.
Sissney represented active school employees during her time on the board, and participated in the Ethics, Audit, Investment Management, Benefits, Budget and Compensation Committees during her service. Her years of dedication and leadership are appreciated and will never be forgotten.
Thank you for your membership to TRTA. We will continue to follow the progress on TRS-Care, and provide you many more opportunities to get involved!